More harm than good: Question and counter ‘zombie statistics’ and ‘poverty porn’ within the responsible fashion and apparel movement

Graph 1: Social media capture (Twitter search) of #RanaPlazaNeverAgain using NodeXL Basic, pulled by Mary, April 23, 9pm, PST. (Visual capture of some tweets across approx 9 days).

If you’re reading this blog post, and if you’ve followed any of our projects, you know labour rights violations and environmental destruction collide in countless ways across the global fashion and apparel industry.

Likewise, you know to expect increased activity (see Graphs 1 & 2) within certain pockets of the responsible fashion and apparel (RFA) movement this week: tomorrow it will be 6 years since Rana Plaza (April 24th); yesterday marked yet another Earth Day (April 22nd).

It’s a busy time of year for RFA advocates, activists, and allies.

With this in mind, I want to highlight a recent article written by Maja van der Velden, Associate Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo, published on Africa Is a Country.

Rather than repeat the article, I’m linking directly to it here (it has great links within it too, like the article from Amy Keegan for WaterAid).

Although the author is addressing the specific case of e-waste in the context of Ghana, I feel that the central arguments on the dangers of ‘zombie statistics’ and ‘poverty porn’ relate well to the responsible fashion and apparel movement (see here and here, for example).

As you sift through your news feeds this week, and every week, ask the following questions:

  1. Is what I am reading/watching/sharing ‘poverty porn’? How are the subjects being represented?
  2. Are the ‘facts’ in the article/blog/film responsibly referenced, and can I trace these back to reputable sources?

I hope you’ll keep these questions in mind. I know I will.

Graph 2: Social media capture (Twitter search) of #WhoMadeMyClothes using NodeXL Basic, pulled by Mary, April 23, 9pm, PST. (Visual capture of some tweets across approx 4 days).

Mary Hanlon

Mary is the founder, editor and lead contributor at Social Alterations. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, where she researches responsible fashion and transnational labour rights activism in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.

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